Study Shows Alcohol Increases Risk of Heart Disease, Particularly Among Women

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New research shows a link between alcohol consumption and coronary heart disease, with the association being especially high among women, even those in younger to middle-aged groups. The findings, which will be presented at the American College of Cardiology's Annual Scientific Session, indicate that women who drink eight or more alcoholic beverages per week are significantly more likely to develop coronary heart disease than those who drink less.

Led by Jamal Rana, MD, PhD, FACC, a cardiologist with The Permanente Medical Group and adjunct investigator in the Division of Research at Kaiser Permanente Northern California, the study examined data from over 430,000 individuals aged 18 to 65. Nearly 243,000 were men, and 189,000 were women, none of whom had preexisting heart disease at the study's outset.

Based on self-reported assessments, investigators categorized the participants’ alcohol intake into low, moderate, and high levels, with binge drinking defined as consuming more than four drinks for men or more than three drinks for women in a single day. Participants were assessed for coronary heart disease diagnoses, with adjustments made for various cardiovascular risk factors.

The research revealed a significant correlation between alcohol intake and the incidence of coronary heart disease over a four-year follow-up period. The results showed that regular drinking was more likely to have adverse effects on heart health for women compared to men.  

"When it comes to binge drinking, both men and women with excess alcohol consumption had a higher risk of heart disease," said Dr. Rana in a statement. "For women, we find consistently higher risk even without binge drinking.”

Overall, the incidence of coronary heart disease increased with higher levels of alcohol consumption, with women in the high intake category showing a 45 percent higher risk compared to those with low intake. Among those who engaged in binge drinking, women were 68 percent more likely to develop heart disease compared to those with moderate intake.

The results suggested that even women in the lower age groups who reported heavy drinking saw an increased risk of heart disease, which is primarily thought to be a concern among older women. Dr. Rana noted, "Women feel they're protected against heart disease until they're older, but this study shows that even when you're young or middle-aged if you are a heavy alcohol user or binge drink, you are at risk for coronary heart disease."

According to researchers, these findings underscore the need for increased awareness of the health risks associated with alcohol consumption, especially among younger populations. While the authors acknowledged limitations such as potential underreporting of alcohol intake, they said the study provides crucial insights into the relationship between alcohol consumption and heart disease risk.

"When it comes to heart disease, the number one thing that comes to mind is smoking, and we do not think about alcohol as one of the vital signs," Dr. Rana said. "I think a lot more awareness is needed, and alcohol should be part of routine health assessments moving forward."